From 1855 to 1902, Hannah Cullwicks photographed self-portraits engaged in domestic labour. Cleaning floors, blistered hands and shining shoes are the focus. Cullwicks’ fascination with household work and servitude was directly connected to her sexuality. In her letters and self-portraits she expressed her love of a submissive role, which in current terms translates to BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism). In these images, Cullwicks dons a leather bracelet to indicate her sexual position as well as a lock and chain that only her “master” has the key to.
Curator, Renate Lorenz discovered Culwicks’ self-portraits at an archive in the UK that she shared with Pauline Boudry a video artist from Switzerland. Boudry uses Victorian imagery inspired by Berlin-based drag performer, Werner Hirsch, to perform the actions, costumes and poses of Cullwicks’ photographs. These historical pictures are reworked in a contemporary context, which is emphasized by using queer photographer Del LaGrace Volcano’s series Daddy Boy Dykes in the background. Normal Work negates an overly simplistic view of sexuality and labour, by challenging viewers to look past the familiar into portraiture’s role in archiving identity and photography’s growth into new technologies. Curated by Renate Lorenz.
Gallery 44 gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the Goethe-Institut Toronto and the generous support of the Inside Out Film Festival.